2017 NBA Playoff Awards: Postseason's MVP, Top Defender, Best Rookie and More
The 2017 NBA Finals are a wrap, and the titanic talent on display between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers was enough to make you forget there were 14 other teams involved in the playoffs at one point.
Here, we acknowledge members of those forgotten teams—along with those from Finals participants—for their postseason efforts.
BUT! This is going to be a Finals-heavy list.
It has to be.
Players who guide their teams deep into the playoffs, and especially to the ultimate round, deserve more recognition than those that don't. Not just because surviving deeper into the playoffs means they've contributed greater volume, but also because the games just matter more as the playoffs progress.
There's a reason regular-season awards of consequence never wind up in the hands of players on losing teams. The thinking is similar here. Winning is critical.
Playoff MVP: LeBron James
LeBron James averaged a triple-double in the Finals (33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists), shot under 45 percent just once in the entire postseason and finished with playoff averages of 32.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists on 56.5 percent shooting.
He is the greatest player of his generation and perhaps the greatest player ever, playing at the top of his game.
When James wasn't on the floor against the Warriors, Cleveland got outscored by 37.4 points per 100 possessions. His Cavs lost one game en route to the Finals, and they were beaten by 6.2 points per 100 possessions in those first three series whenever James sat.
He didn't win it all, and as was the case two years ago, it doesn't matter. You were watching something else if you didn't think LeBron James was the best player on the floor this postseason.
James did everything he could—more than anyone else could have possibly managed—and it was enough to beat everyone except a historically great opponent.
KD had at least 30 in every game of the Finals and averaged 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists against the Cavs. Before that, he put 21 points per game on the Portland Trail Blazers, 24.5 on the Utah Jazz and 28 on the San Antonio Spurs.
As the competition ramped up, he just scored more.
The official Finals MVP always goes to the player from the winning team these days, so he was an easy choice for the trophy.
All Curry did was average 28.1 points, 6.7 assists and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 48.4 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from long range in the postseason, proving his underwhelming performance last year was the result of that knee sprain suffered in the first round.
He was the third-best player in the Finals—and the third-best player in the entire postseason.
Defensive Player of the Playoffs: Draymond Green
The Warriors defended better than anyone in the postseason, and Draymond Green was the main reason.
With him on the floor, the Dubs posted a defensive rating of 97.2. When he sat, that figure was 113.9. Put another way, Green's presence or absence was the difference between Golden State defending better than the league's best regular-season defense or worse than its worst.
Tenacity, preternatural anticipation, versatility and far fewer technical fouls than last postseason made Green incomprehensibly valuable.
The guy scored more than 20 points just twice in 17 playoff games, and the Warriors couldn't have won a ring without him.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard
Durant proved his regular-season evolution was for real; he brought his newfound rim protection and defensive focus to the playoffs. KD played center when Green found himself in foul trouble, switched across five positions and was a key factor for a stifling Golden State defense. Not bad.
A postseason cut short by an ankle injury makes it too easy to forget Leonard and his defensive prowess. He always took on the toughest matchup with a shoddy back line behind him, always had enough energy to carry the offense and would have done a lot more damage against the Warriors if he wasn't injured.
Rookie of the Playoffs: Rudy Gobert
Slight rules clarification here: We're not honoring the top actual rookie in the 2016-17 postseason. Instead, we're highlighting the player who performed the best in his first playoff trip.
That player is Rudy Gobert, the Utah Jazz center who averaged 11.6 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while anchoring a defense that knocked off the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round before bowing out quickly against the Warriors.
Gobert overcame an ankle sprain in the first round that effectively cost him Games 1-3 (he suffered it in the opening seconds of Game 1), but posted two straight double-doubles in Games 4 and 5 as his return sparked a Jazz run that closed out the Clips with three victories over the series' final four contests.
And though Golden State's skill, speed and experience resulted in a 4-0 sweep, Gobert still averaged 15.5 points, 13.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks on 65.8 percent shooting in that brief second round.
As the playoffs progressed and smaller lineups became more prevalent, it's worth noting Gobert, a conventional center, proved bigs can still matter. Even against Golden State, a team that routinely nullifies opposing centers, he averaged 35 minutes per game.
Honorable Mention: Taurean Prince
Only 31 actual rookies participated in the 2016-17 postseason, and Taurean Prince led them all with 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. And while he deserves recognition for being the best among a small sample of impact first-year playoff participants (Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker and Dejounte Murray all had their moments), fudging the category requirements to give Gobert his due feels like the right move.
Coach of the Playoffs: Tyronn Lue
Everybody had the answers for the Cavaliers after two straight blowout losses to open the Finals—seemingly obvious solutions that involved slowing the pace, posting up James and doing everything possible to ugly up the game.
Tyronn Lue ignored them all, and he deserves heaps and heaps of credit for boldly flouting conventional wisdom. Lue stuck to everything that got his Cavs to the Finals—even when it seemed like the worst idea in the world.
"We're not going to change our game because of who we're playing," he told reporters after Game 2. "And I'm confident that we can play that way, and we did it last year. A lot of people said we couldn't. But that's our game. That's who we are."
The result was a loss in Game 3 that should have been a win. Cleveland outplayed the Warriors in that contest and were undone by Durant's icy three in the final minute. Following that defeat, the Cavs pushed the pedal all the way through the floor, ramping up the pace to its absolute maximum and scoring an absurd 49 points in the first quarter of Game 4.
Everyone would have excused Lue for abandoning the juiced-up offensive approach that served Cleveland so well before the Finals. It was impossible to imagine it working against Golden State.
And then it did. The Cavs did something no other postseason team did: win a game against the Warriors.
Lue also trusted J.R. Smith after his disappearance early in the series. He stuck with Tristan Thompson after his own early ineffectiveness led to the Warriors winning on the glass in Games 1 and 2.
Basically, Lue had every reason to panic, every opportunity to try something different and abandon his team's strengths. But he never did.
Given the stakes and the stage, Lue showed phenomenal poise.
Honorable Mention: Mike Brown
Golden State was undefeated in games he coached, and Brown's less rigid approach to rotation and strategy served the Warriors well when Steve Kerr was out.
Play of the Playoffs: LeBron Off the Board
Giannis Antetokounmpo had several loping, stretching plasticine dunks, and John Wall shifted into hyperdrive for a few scorching end-to-end sequences. Let's also remember that Kevin Durant hit an absolute dagger to win Game 3 of the Finals.
But James takes the honor here easily by breaking out an All-Star Game play on the biggest and most consequential stage imaginable.
It's not just that James tried this move, typically reserved for exhibitions, in the Finals while down 3-0. It's not that he did it spontaneously—rather than planning it ahead of time.
It's that it was the right play.
The defenders sank to cover a lob or a dump-off threat after feinting toward the ball, and James, already in the air, read the situation perfectly, settling on the only option left.
Because of course he did.
Sixth Man of the Playoffs: Andre Iguodala
Sixth men are supposed to make maximum use of limited minutes. Come off the bench and fire up shots on every touch—that sort of thing.
But Andre Iguodala has always been so much more than that for the Warriors, and his varietal impacts played a major role in his team winning its second ring.
He stripped James on a potential game-tying three-pointer at the end of Game 3, got up for lobs that his creaky knees should have made impossible in Game 5 and finished that decisive contest with 20 points in 38 minutes. That's after scoring in double figures just three other times in the postseason.
The game's best backup kept something extra in reserve, and it made the Warriors' title win possible.
"Every moment he's out there, he can spark us," Curry said on the postgame podium.
When Golden State truly catches fire, he's usually the reason.
Honorable Mention: Joe Johnson
Hey, remember when Johnson took over several games in the fourth quarter of a postseason series? In 2017?
Iso Joe became the Utah Jazz's late-game savior against the Los Angeles Clippers, averaging 15.7 points for the series. He scored seven fourth-period points in a Game 1 win and 13 in the closing stanza of a Game 4 victory in which Gordon Hayward played just nine total minutes.
Most Improved of the Playoffs: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo last reached the postseason in 2014-15, and aside from averaging 11.5 points per game on 36.6 percent shooting in that visit, his most notable act was checking Mike Dunleavy into the stands.
Frustrated and down by 30 in the first half of Game 6 against the Chicago Bulls, a then 20-year-old Antetokoumpo wasn't ready to make a more positive impact...so he got overly physical and earned an ejection as his Bucks were eliminated.
Things were different this year, as Antetokounmpo's full-blown superstardom revealed itself to the world over the course of six playoff games against the Toronto Raptors.
After averaging 11.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 blocks and 0.5 steals in the 2015 postseason, Antetokounmpo posted 24.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.7 blocks and 2.2 steals this postseason while hitting 53.6 percent of his shots.
Knock him for only playing six games if you like, but nobody else in the 2016-17 playoffs put up those five-category figures. Not James. Not Durant. Nobody.
Maybe the year off (Milwaukee missed the playoffs in 2015-16 altogether) makes this a suspect win, but if you step back a bit and take in the bigger picture, there's no way you'll talk yourself into another player as the breakout story of the postseason.
Antetokounmpo even shot 40 percent from long distance before being eliminated, though the enduring moment from his second career playoff trip will be his reluctance to fire away from distance in the waning seconds of Game 6, when his team needed him to.
Something to work on for next time.
Honorable Mention: John Wall and Stephen Curry
Wall's scoring average was 9.8 points per game higher this postseason than it was in his last trip to the dance, and Stephen Curry looked a lot more like his MVP self while playing without a bothersome knee injury.
But there's really just one option for this award, and it goes to the guy who'll probably win the official honor for his 2016-17 regular-season efforts.